Insiders’ view of the world of headhunting

‘Excerpts from the life of a head-hunter’ working in the leisure/hospitality/retail sectors.

[Unfortunately such is the sensitivity of the head-hunting profession that it is rarely possible that the names of the Insiders’ clients can be divulged]

9:00am Wednesday Nov 13 – Failed to make changes

The major new US client I discussed in my last column continued to use its questionable scatter-gun approach to recruitment. After several face-to-face meetings as well as telephone exchanges and numerous emails my attempts to get this fabulous new client to trust our ability to understand their requirements had largely failed.

We had not been able to convince the business unit director and their in-house recruitment team of the benefits of this new approach. To highlight this they suddenly announced they were going to interview 35 individuals for a particular role. Normally we’d provide a long list of eight candidates and through conversations with the client we’d reduce it to no more than four or five for face-to-face interviews.


Number of people to interview

11:30am Friday Nov 15 – How many interviews!

I receive an email from the client saying they’d like us to telephone interview all our prospective candidates for the role, their suggested candidates, their co-recruiters candidates, the responses gleaned from the internet, and those people who had applied via the newspaper advert – amounting to 40 people.


I immediately fire off a reply questioning whether it is the best use of everyone’s time to undertake so many interviews. Telephone interviewing 40 people would, in my opinion, be a weeks’ work.


A quick response comes back from the client suggesting I should not worry as they were to only allot 15 minutes to each candidate interview!


I respond by questioning what exactly they can learn in such a paltry amount of time. By being given so little time the candidates would – not surprisingly – think the client was not that interested in them.


I manage to arrange two telephone interviews – for 10:15 and 10:30 – but while I am doing this, I hear from three candidates who had decided to pull out as a result of them believing the process did not involve enough time for interviewing. This sorry tale will continue in the next column…

12:30pm Tuesday November 19 – Lunch with deal maker

The previous week I’d bumped into the founder of a small private equity firm and unusually we got on like a house on fire. Some years ago he’d decided to go to UBS and focus on deals in the leisure and hospitality sector where he became one of the top five movers and shakers in the area doing deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Now set up on his own, we decided to have lunch at a French restaurant near his office. We talked about who I know, whether I could help make him any introductions to small business owners, and if I could help with deal origination. I also heard about his current deals and whether I might be able to help if they need to restructure any of their management teams.

The conversation was fast, furious, interesting and partly fuelled by frighteningly expensive flavoured macaroons – £3 each for effectively one mouth full of sweetness.


Expensive meeting fuel


I brought the lunch to a hasty close as I needed to race to Shaftesbury Avenue to interview a HR director of a pub company potentially looking for a change of role. I found her a very interesting character that I believed would be more suited to a high street retailing role than her existing one in hospitality. At one point during the meeting I suggest she is effectively two people – one at work and her real self the rest of the time – and questioned how she manages this. I suggested it was not possible to be as effective at work if the career person is not the true character of the person.


I wrap up the HR meeting and make haste to Novikov restaurant in central London to meet a CEO along with a third-party who like me also supplies into his business. Scanning the bar menu revealed nibbles starting at a modest £30 and a bottle of Moretti beer at £9.50 a pop. And on the food menu there was calamari at a mere £28 and scampi and chips a snip at £60. More of this next time…

Sponsored column by Nigel Sapsed, director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens